Students go to court: they also need help paying the energy bill

Students engage in legal battle with municipalities. The activists don't understand why they are excluded from the energy allowance. The Council of State also appears critical of the justification for that choice.

Isabel Baneke
February 1, 2023 – Trouw

He is attending classes in Greek and Latin as well as law. Juggling these two full-time studies leaves Melle van der Geest with little time for a part-time job. His parents cannot easily provide financial support, and the twenty-year-old is already borrowing the maximum. However, his application for a one-time energy allowance was rejected by the Amsterdam municipality. “Simply because I am a student.”

This is unjust, he argued on Tuesday in the capital’s court. Van der Geest, clad in a grass-green sweater with wavy hair down to his shoulders, explained to the administrative judge that he is in exactly the same situation as the low-income households that did receive 1000 or 1800 euros from the municipality, depending on their assets. “I also struggle to pay my standard expenses. The heating remains mostly off.”

Countless students fight for the right to energy allowance

With his lawsuit, Van der Geest follows the example of the student who took the municipality of Nijmegen to court last spring. He is not alone. Students elsewhere, including in Groningen, Rotterdam, and Leiden, are currently trying to enforce an energy allowance through legal means. In Gelderland, the court ruled in favor of the Nijmegen student; he was entitled to assistance with paying the energy bill.

As a result of that ruling, several municipalities adjusted their policies, although a patchwork of local rules and exceptions has emerged. In Tilburg, only independently living students can claim compensation; in Den Bosch, they must also have their energy contract, and brainiacs from Sittard are obliged to submit their compensation request on paper.

Municipalities fear ‘overcompensation’

However, many municipalities, including Amsterdam, stick to the line of the Ministry of Social Affairs: students are not eligible for the energy allowance. They claim to lack sufficient budget and capacity to include students in the scheme. Moreover, students differ from other low-income households, according to them, because there is so much variation in the living situations of students. The minister and municipalities talk about the risk of ‘overcompensation,’ fearing that money will end up with students who can actually pay their energy bill themselves.

This year, the government wants to grant low-income households an energy allowance again, excluding students once more. A change to the Participation Act is required for the compensation. A bill was sent to the Council of State for advice, which proved critical of the exclusion of students last week.

The advisor is not convinced of the government’s logic; according to him, students are not so different from groups that do receive help with paying gas and electricity. Moreover, municipalities are deprived of the opportunity to pursue their own course, says the Council of State; they can no longer decide to include students in the energy allowance. The government is advised to better justify the legal exclusion and, if necessary, adjust the proposal.

Student: ‘Municipality violates the principle of equality’

In Amsterdam, the municipality explained to the judge on Tuesday that they are not excluding students out of unwillingness. “We ensure that vulnerable residents are not disconnected, that is the municipality’s task,” said the lawyer in a packed courtroom – clusters of Amsterdam students attended the hearing. “Purchasing power repairs belong to the government.” But the lawyer for Van der Geest deemed that justification inadequate. “Melle meets all the requirements but is excluded because he is a student. Rejecting him for the energy allowance goes against the principle of equality.” On March 14, it will be clear who the judge agrees with.

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